Against Fundamentalism and Imperialism

Against the Current, No. 161, November/December 2012

Adaner Usmani

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS NOT related to the situation in Balochistan have been the subject of much discussion, both in Pakistan’s mainstream media and on the Left. In early October, a group of protesters marshaled by [populist politician and former cricket star] Imran Khan’s PTI party embarked on an anti-drone march to South Waziristan. A group of U.S.-based activists accompanied them. The protest convoy was turned back at the border by the Pakistani Army on October 7th, a day after it had left the capital Islamabad.

Two days later gunmen from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attempted to murder Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken 14-year-old who had risen to national prominence for her impassioned defense of girls’ education in the face of the Taliban’s takeover of her home district, Swat. At the time of writing (October 16) her fate remains uncertain.

The weeks since have been dominated by two equally abject ways of relating the demands of the anti-drone march to Malala’s attempted murder. The first, advanced by Imran Khan, much of the Pakistani right, and some of its misguided Left, attributes the toxic politics of the TTP to the U.S. war in Af-Pak. It excuses fundamentalism by indicting imperialism. The second, favored by establishment warmongers and their liberal enablers, entrusts Pakistan’s emancipation from fundamentalism to the drones and the Army. As a placard at a recent protest argued: “Drones kill so Malala can live.”

The interminable back-and-forth between these two positions only adds to the burden of arguing a third position, which invariably falls to us. Both the war, in its U.S.-led and Pakistan-led forms, and the attempt to murder Malala demand condemnation. If the values the Left champions are to be realized, we can have no truck with imperialism or fundamentalism.

The forces behind drone strikes, the occupation of Afghanistan, the Pakistan military’s own offensives in the tribal areas, as well as the political tendencies responsible for or sympathetic to the unforgivable assault on Malala will have to be reckoned with, if the country is to become a livable place for its working classes, its women, and its minorities.

The challenge, of course, is that this orientation is not much more than a starting point for left-wing politics. The real tasks lie before us. The first is deciding what these twin commitments demand, in the form of an immediate focus for campaigns and propaganda. The second, most importantly, is walking the walk — in building the political capacity to make this third pole a meaningful option for Pakistan’s disenfranchised.

In this regard, a third piece of news seems salutary. Early November will see a merger of three of Pakistan’s larger left-wing parties — Labour Party Pakistan, the Workers Party, and the Awami Party. The objective of uniting disparate political tendencies under the banner of a broad party has been a longstanding goal of Left activists in the country.

Whether this merger will succeed in growing the Left’s influence is unclear — the party’s increased resources are an advantage, but its ideological heterogeneity will pose challenges. What’s not in doubt is that the years ahead promise to be instructive ones.

November/December 2012, ATC 161